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Jewish Journal

My Hat Goes Off to You, President Obama!

by Lia Mandelbaum

May 10, 2012 | 3:25 pm

President Obama was bold like the lion!!

The intention of this article is not to go into depth about the politics surrounding President Obama’s decision to show his support for marriage equality, but to rather relay how impressed and grateful I am for what I found to be such a courageous act. 

Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”  Obama chose to go with his faith, which is to “treat others the way you would want to be treated.”  His act yesterday showed me a sense of congruence and integrity with his values.  I am not going to pretend that I fully know and understand the politics and character of our President, and so I think it is important to not idealize who he is by his recent statements, but rather acknowledge his act of support and bravery, which I believe spoke volumes. 

“In the end the values that I care most deeply about and [Michelle] cares most deeply about is how we treat other people.  We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but when we think about our faith, the thing at root is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”

As most of us know, the presidency is one of the most powerful and desired positions in the world.  When I was young, there were countless times when I would talk with fellow classmates, about how we wanted to be the president when we grew up.  To me, it was the ultimate (but slightly improbable) goal to attain.  What was so beautiful about what President Obama did, was that he chose to risk re-election, in order to do what he felt was just and right, by showing support for marriage equality.  Obama has been touched by the lives of people in the LGBT community, and decided that he could no longer stand idly by.  It is so much more often then not, that leaders are driven by a desire to attain and maintain power.  By relaying his support to the world, President Obama definitely took the road less traveled. 

“Over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married…”

I have heard many individuals, who are both for and against marriage equality, state arguments such as “He did it to get money for his campaign,” “It was all just a political strategy,”  “It took him way too long for him to say something about marriage equality.”  Regardless of whether or not there is truth to those statements, my response is “so what?!?!”  It took me 18 years to be in my truth and stand taller, out of fear of loosing the support of others.  I can have total empathy for President Obama’s hesitance to come out and show support, considering that there are some very valid fears and potentially humungous consequences.       

In my opinion, the fight for marriage equality has meaning that goes way beyond the intended focus.  Marriage equality is such a hot button topic, because it profoundly challenges people’s religious views, gender roles, politics…their entire belief systems are challenged.  It can make people feel anger, discomfort, threatened, and fearful.  It challenges a person’s capacity to find compassion and acceptance, towards those who may totally defy and threaten their core values.  When I mention compassion and acceptance, I am not saying that I believe a person must change and agree with the lifestyle of someone who goes against his or her core values.  A professor of mine always says, “acceptance does not mean agreement.”  Acceptance to me, says that I can still acknowledge your humanity, regardless of how much I disagree with your choices.  It is way too often, that human beings from all walks of life, are dehumanized and “othered” by those groups or individuals, who are extremely opposed to what they may represent. 

I have found that when I experience very intense and reactive emotions towards another human being that I may not agree with, and have “othered,” it ultimately hurts me the most.  I get defensive and shut down, and I feel disconnected from my essence.  I often loose sight of rational thinking, and my perception is shaped by my fear and anger.  The people who provoke those feelings within me, are often my greatest teachers.  They have taught me how to free myself of any reactions that are ultimately harmful and cause me pain.  There are people within and outside of this country, who feel disgusted by my sexual orientation.  There are people who if they had the chance, would want to hurt and possibly even kill me.  There are countries where by law, I would be imprisoned and killed for my sexual orientation. The reality is that I can empathize with those people, while also being fully aware and smart about the unfortunate reality.  For many years, I was disgusted with my sexuality and wanted to kill myself.  I felt tremendously ashamed, and was imprisoned by that shame.  I bullied those who were outwardly gay.  If I cannot empathize with those who may hate me, I cannot empathize and find healing and forgiveness towards the part of myself that had the same views as them, for the majority of my life.  It took me years, to move beyond those feelings.  I no longer have any room in my belief system for any sort of hatred towards myself or another person.  I refuse to allow hatred into my heart, and I do so through compassion, and by making sure to break the hate down if it arises within me.  I do not believe that any human being is born into this world with hateful thoughts.  We are conditioned by society to have those beliefs.  One may say that my feelings and their feelings are totally different and should not be compared, but I disagree.  I totally get it… however I refuse to agree with those specific beliefs.  I love myself today, and know that I am totally worthy of love. 

People who may want to harm me, have the right to believe what ever they want, however I hope that they would reconsider their anger and strong contempt, because I feel it ultimately harms them. 

Yesterday, I witnessed one of the most powerful people on the planet, stand up towards the whole world, and say that regardless of what the consequences may be, he chooses to support a commitment of love.

I believe that he set an amazing example to the world through his tremendously bold act, of choosing love over power.  I felt tremendously invigorated and empowered knowing my president took that risk.  I also felt more safe.

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